Alcohol and sleep

A few months back we’d seen this documentary on Netflix (I THINK) on the effects of alcohol on health. Like you would expect from a well-made documentary (rather than a polemic), the results were inconclusive. There were a few mildly positive effects, some negative effects, some indicators on how alcohol can harm your health, etc.

However, the one thing I remember from that documentary is about alcohol’s effect on sleep – that drinking makes you sleep worse (contrary to popular imagination where you can easily pass out if you drink a lot). And I have now managed to validate that for myself using data.

The more perceptive of you might know that I log my life. I have a spreadsheet where every day I record some vital statistics (sleep and meal times, anxiety, quality of work, etc. etc.). For the last three months I’ve also had an Apple Watch, which makes its own recordings of its vital statistics.

Until this morning these two data sets had been disjoint – until I noticed an interesting pattern in my average sleeping heart rate. And then I decided to join them and do some analysis. A time series to start:

Notice the three big spikes in recent times. And they only seem to be getting higher (I’ll come to that in a bit).

And then sometimes a time series doesn’t do justice to patterns – absent the three recent big spikes it’s hard to see from this graph if alcohol has an impact on sleep heart rate. This is where a boxplot can help.

The difference is evident here – when I have alcohol, my heart rate during sleep is much higher, which means I don’t rest as well.

That said, like everything else in the world, it is not binary. Go back to the time series and see – I’ve had alcohol fairly often in this time period but my heart rate hasn’t spiked as much on all days. This is where quantity of alcohol comes in.

Most days when I drink, it’s largely by myself at home. A glass or two of either single malt or wine. And the impact on sleep is only marginal. So far so good.

On 26th, a few colleagues had come home. We all drank Talisker. I had far more than I normally have. And so my heart rate spiked (79). And then on June 1st, I took my team out to Arbor. Pretty much for the first time in 2022 I was drinking beer. I drank a fair bit. 84.

And then on Saturday I went for a colleague’s birthday party. There were only cocktails. I drank lots of rum and coke (I almost never drink rum). 89.

My usual drinking, if you see, doesn’t impact my health that much. But big drinking is big problem, especially if it’s a kind of alcohol I don’t normally drink.

Now, in the interest of experimentation, one of these days I need to have lots of wine and see how I sleep!

PS: FWIW Sleeping heart rate is uncorrelated with how much coffee I have

PS2: Another time I wrote about alcohol

PS3: Maybe in my daily log I need to convert the alcohol column from binary to numeric (and record the number of units of alcohol I drink)

 

Chaupat Raja Cooking

While cooking my dinner this evening, I had a realisation, and not a pleasant one. I realised that the way I cook can sometimes be described as “chaupat raja” model of cooking.

The story goes that there was a town called “andher nagari” (dark town), which was ruled by a “chaupat raja”. The raja had fixed the price of all commodities at “1 taka” (not sure if it’s the same as the Bangladeshi currency).

So if you bought onions, you would pay 1 taka per onion, irrespective of the size or quality of it. If you buy a piece of rope, you would again pay 1 taka, irrespective of its length. The story, as told in my 8th Standard Hindi textbook, has a bunch of hilarious examples of the absurdities caused by this regulation.

A wall has fallen and killed a man. The chain of investigation reveals that someone sold a very large bucket for 1 taka, and the latter used that bucket as a measure for water, and thus ends up building a wall that is highly prone to collapsing.

Another story is that someone needs to be hanged, and the hangman can only prepare a loose noose because for 1 taka he ended up getting a long piece of rope that day. And so on.

Anyway, one of my wife’s criticisms about my cooking is that I sometimes “lack proportion”. Now, it doesn’t extend to everything – for my coffee, for example, I have a gram scale in the kitchen which I use to carefully measure out both the quantity of the powder and the amount of water (next in line is to buy a food thermometer so I can use water of the exact same temperature each time).

However, when cooking certain things, I use rough measures. “Throw in all the carrots in the fridge”, for example. Or “use two carrots”, not bothering about the size of the said carrots. I use “number of eggs” as measure without thinking about the size of the eggs (which varies considerably in the shops around where I live).

And that leads to chaupat raja kind of outcomes. One day, my omelette had too much onion because the onion I decided to cut that day was large. Another day, a vegetable stew I’d made turned out too sweet because there were three carrots left in the fridge and I put in all of them, though normally I would’ve only put two.

My habit of throwing in everything without measuring means that my wife has banned me from cooking several dishes for her.

In any case, what I’m trying to illustrate is that using measures in the kitchen based on numbers of something can lead to massively uncertain outcomes, and is an example of “chaupat raja economics”. What we need is better precision (even using something like “1 cup of diced carrots” is inaccurate because the amount of diced carrots a cup can hold can change based on the size of each dice. never mind “cup” is in any case an inexact measure).

Now that I’ve recognised that my style of cooking is like chaupat raja, I’ve decided I need to cooking. There is no reason that coffee is the only thing for which I should pay attention to bring in precision.

Or maybe it will just take too much effort, and the average chaupat raja outcome in the kitchen isn’t bad (the ultimate outcome for the chaupat raja was banned. The story goes that someone needs to be hanged, but it turns out that the noose is too loose (for 1 taka, the hangman got a long piece of rope that day), so the king decides to find someone whose neck fits the  noose. After much searching, someone suggests that the king’s neck is the right size for the noose and he hangs himself.

 

Shankersinh Vaghela

Ever since I returned to India 2 years back, my roasted peanuts of choice have been the one by Haldiram. I used to even buy them to grind them to make peanut butter until I discovered MyFitness Peanut Butter almost exactly a year back.

Recently, though, I hadn’t been able to procure Haldiram’s peanuts. And on a random trip to a supermarket, I found a brand called “Jabsons”. I bought it on a whim, and was super impressed.

The nuts themselves are larger than Haldiram’s, and are crispier. And I notice that the brand markets that it’s from Gujarat, where a lot of peanuts are grown. So far, so good.

And then on twitter, people recommended that I try their flavoured peanuts as well. For the longest time I haven’t been a fan of flavoured peanuts, maybe because I’ve had a few bad ones. I mean, I like the local shop ones, the yellow split masala ones called “Congress” and the red roasted ones called “Communist“.

In any case, inspired by the responses to my tweet, I decided to pick some variants of the Jabsons peanuts on the next visit to the supermarket. I started “safely”, with Black Pepper.

And that was insanely brilliant. Very very awesome. Among the best flavoured roasted peanuts I’ve ever eaten. I even crafted a tweet in my head to appreciate it, but couldn’t post it then because I was on a mini twitter break. I’m writing it here.

Jabsons black pepper peanuts kicks the ass of both Congress and Communist. Given that it comes from Gujarat, I hereby christen it “BJP”. 

And my quest for other flavours of Jabsons peanuts continued. I soon picked up a “spicy masala” flavour. It was a bit spicy for my liking, but I found that it goes brilliantly with curd rice. And then I acquired a taste for it.

Thinking about it, the Jabsons spicy peanuts are somewhat like Congress, but not quite Congress. And they come from Gujarat. Sort of Congress from Gujarat, but not quite Congress. Who does that remind you of?

Well, Shankersinh Vaghela, of course.

So I hereby christen the Jabsons Spicy Peanuts Shankersinh Vaghela. Goes very very well with curd rice.

Concepts from The Obesity Code

Based on the recommendation of a friend who had once described his waistline as “changing more often than Britney Spears’s (?) bra size”, I read Jasun Fung’s The Obesity Code over the last couple of days. The book is stellar.

Here are my highlights from the book.

Anyway, fitness and nutrition is something I’ve been struggling with for a very long time in life now. I used to believe that I have my health numbers (primarily triglycerides) under control because of regular lifting of heavy weights, but a recent blood test called that assumption to question. Having got what I now think is bad advice about what to eat and what not to eat, getting better advice on food is something I’ve been fairly receptive to. And the book does a great job of it.

The basic idea is – your body weight is controlled by hormones. How much you eat and how much you exercise doesn’t really matter. Calorie counting just doesn’t work. Your body has a “natural weight”, and if you are above that the body will try to adjust it lower, and vice versa. And this “natural weight” is guided by the hormones, especially insulin. The higher the level of insulin in your blood, the more your “natural weight” will be.

So the idea is to keep the level of insulin in your blood low. The author builds up a stellar case with some rigorous presentation of research. There is NO RELATIONSHIP between the fat that you eat and risk of heart attacks. A high carb low fat diet will make you fat.

And what I liked about the book is the structuring – the first 220 pages is all about presenting the research on various topics, and not really “giving away” what you should or should not eat. And then in the last 20 pages, he puts it all together, with a broad plan on what is good to eat and what is not.

In any case, I’m not going to reproduce the book here. You can go read it (it’s very very well written), or just read my highlights. The reason I started writing this post is to document my learnings from the book. I think I’d already internalised a lot of it, but some of it is new. This is how I plan to change my diet going forward:

  • Sometimes in recent times I’ve noticed this “heady feeling” upon eating certain foods. I used to think it’s due to eating too much sweet. Now, after reading, I think it’s the feeling of an insulin spike in my head. I’m not going to have any fruit juices. Fruits need to be eaten whole
  • I’ve largely eschewed added sugars for a while now (sometimes on and off). This will continue.
  • Artificial sweeteners also cause a spike in insulin. I didn’t know this. So no more coke zero. No more Muscle Blaze Whey Energy powder as well (I now need to find a whey powder that doesn’t contain any sweet or any sweetener). No energy bars. No “no added sugar” biscuits.
  • This is maybe the most important concept in the book – NO SNACKING. Eat exactly two or three times a day (I used to eat two a day, but nowadays I go to the gym in the mornings, so breakfast is necessary). Eat as much as you want at each meal, but don’t eat in between meals. The body needs lots of periods of time when insulin levels go low – so it doesn’t adjust to a higher natural level of insulin, which means a higher natural weight.
  • Dairy products have a high “insulin index” (produce lots of insulin once eaten), but also have high satiety – they keep you full for a very long time after eating. After my last cholesterol test, after a fight with the wife, I largely gave up on cheeses. I’m reversing that now. I love cheese, and it’s good for me. Calorie counting just doesn’t work (the book does a great job of explaining this).
  • Not doing keto. It’s unsustainable. And I love my fruits too much. Oh, and I need to eat my fruits along with my meals. Not as “snacks”
  • Processed carbohydrates are not good. So no more bread for me. I need to figure out if fried eggs + milk will be enough for breakfast. Or find a decent substitute.
  • I also need to figure out how good or bad basmati rice is. Definitely makes me feel better than sona masuri (which we used to eat before). Need to figure out if this feeling is justified.
  • Peanuts are good. Peanut butter is good. Other nuts are good as well. But need to eat them for breakfast. Not as a snack.

The hardest part for me, with this new regimen I plan to start, is “no snack”. I’d gotten so used to snacking that I think I eat far less than necessary during my main meals. And that results in a vicious cycle. I’ve attempted to start breaking out of that by supplementing my chapati-paneer curry with some curd rice tonight.

So far I’ve been feeling great. Let’s see how this goes.

Sugar and social media

For the last one (or is it two?) weeks, I’ve been off all social media. For the last three weeks or so, until a friend baked a wonderful brownie on Wednesday, I was off sugars as well. And I find that my mind reacts similarly to sugar and to social media.

Essentially, the more frequently I’ve been consuming them, the more receptive my mind is to them. I’ve written this in the context of twitter recently – having been largely off Twitter for the last one month or so, I started enjoying my weekly logins less and less with time. Without regular use of the platform, there was no sense of belonging. When you were missing most of the things on the platform anyway, there was no fear of missing out.

So when I logged in to twitter two weekends back, I’d logged out within ten minutes. I haven’t logged in since (though this has since been coopted into a wider social media blackout).

It is similar with sugar. I’d written something similar to this eleven years back, though not to the same effect. Back then again (in the middle of what has been my greatest ever weight loss episode) I ran a consistent calorie deficit for two months, being strictly off sugars and fatty foods. After two months, when I tasted some sweets, I found myself facing a sugar high, and then being unable to have more sugars.

While I got back to sugars soon after that (massive weight loss having been achieved), I’ve periodically gone on and off them. I’m currently in an “off” period, though I’ve periodically “cheated”. And each time I’ve cheated I’ve felt the same as I did when I logged in to twitter – wondered what the big deal with sugar is and why I bother eating it at all.

Last Sunday it was my father-in-law’s birthday, and I broke my “no sugar” rule to eat a piece of his birthday cake. I couldn’t go beyond one piece, though. It was a mixture of disgust with myself and “what’s the big deal with this?” that I felt. It was a similar story on Tuesday, when I similarly couldn’t go beyond one piece of my daughter’s birthday cake (to be fair, it was excessively sweet).

On Wednesday, though, that changed. My friend’s brownie was delicious, and I ended up bingeing on it. And having consumed that much sugar, I continued thulping sugars for the next two days. It took some enormous willpower yesterday morning to get myself off sugars once again.

With social media that is similar. Whenever I go off it, as long as my visits back are short, I fail to get excited by it. However, every time I go beyond a threshold (maybe two hours of twitter in a stretch?) I’m addicted once again.

This may not sound like two many data points, but the moral of this story that I would like to draw is that social media is like sugar. Treat your social media consumption like you treat your consumption of sugar. At least if you’re like me, they affect your mind in the same way.

Bad Apples

Nowadays, I keep apples in the fridge. Apart from remaining fresh longer, I like eating cold apples as well.

It wasn’t always this way. And I would frequently encounter what I call the “bad apples” problem.

You have a bunch of apples at home. They get a little overripe. You don’t want to eat them. You go to the market and see fresh apples there, but you know that you have apples at home. Because you have apples at home, you don’t want to buy new ones. But you don’t want to eat the apples at home, because they are too ripe.

And so they just sit there, getting progressively worse by a wee bit every day. Seeing them everyday makes you feel bad about having not finished them, but also reminds you to not buy new apples. And so you go days together without eating any apples, until one day you gather the courage to throw them in the bin and buy new apples.

I’ve become conscious of this problem for a lot of foodstuff. Apples, as I told you, I now keep in the fridge, so they last longer. The problem doesn’t fully go since you can have months-old wrinkly apples sitting in your fridge that you don’t want to eat, and which prevent you from buying new ones in the market. However, it is far better than seeing apples rot on the shelf.

Bananas and oranges offer the benefit that as soon as they are overripe, they make for excellent smoothies and juices respectively. I’ve become particular about finishing them off that way. Mangoes can be juiced/milkshaked as well. And I’ve developed processes around a lot of foodstuff now so that this “bad apples” problem doesn’t happen.

However, there is no preventing this problem from occurring elsewhere. Books is a prominent example. From this excellent interview of venture capitalist Marc Andreessen that I’m reading:

The problem of having to finish every book is you’re not only spending time on books you shouldn’t be but it also causes you to stall out on reading in general. If I can’t start the next book until I finish this one, but I don’t want to read this one, I might as well go watch TV. Before you know it, you’ve stopped reading for a month and you’re asking “what have I done?!”

It happens with work. There might be a half-written blogpost that you’re loathe to finish, but which prevent you from starting a new blogpost (I’ve gotten pretty ruthless at deleting drafts. I prefer to write posts “at one shot”, so this isn’t that much of a pain).

The good thing, though, is that once you start recognising the bad apples problem in some fields (such as apples), you start seeing them elsewhere as well. And you will develop policies on dealing with them.

Now I’m cursing myself for setting myself an annual target of “number of books to read” (on Goodreads). It’s leading to this:

the sunk cost fallacy means that I try harder to finish so that I can add to my annual count. Sometimes I literally flip through the pages of the book looking for interesting things, in an attempt to finish it one way or the other

Bad apples aren’t that easy to get rid of!

 

Local time zones and function food

Last year after we got back to Bangalore from London, we started inviting people home for meals. It gave us an opportunity to socialise and rebuilt our network here. However, soon we stopped doing this – we had what I call a “time zone problem”.

In the UK, people eat early, and kids go to bed early. We liked both these aspects of the British culture and (to the extent possible) adopted them wholeheartedly. Now, back in India, we continue to follow these practices, but realise that most people around us don’t follow it. And this results in “time zone issues”.

This inevitably results in crane-fox situations when we have to go to someone’s place to eat or vice versa. We have gotten foxed several times, turning up for dinner at 630 or 7, and staying hungry till 9. We’ve tried craning several times, calling people at home for dinner at 630 or 7, and having them turn up much later in the evening.

Meeting outside in neutral places has some mitigating factors. Like 8pm drinks with friends means I finish my dinner and then go for drinks, thus maintaining my schedule. When I want to avoid drinking, the easiest thing to do is to drive to the venue (I’m paranoid about driving without full control).

The worst are religious functions. I’m pretty sure I’ve cribbed about them several time here on this blog. With very few exceptions, they invariably serve lunch or dinner late. Also that a “sacred event” is going on is reason enough for most other guests to not be bothered about the disruptions in eating schedules.

And to deal with that (apart from the fact that a large number of functions after we returned to India served pretty unspectacular food), we took inspiration from a close relative who has this policy of never eating at functions (the one time he broke this policy, two years ago, also coincided with what is easily the worst wedding food I’ve ever eaten, so it’s unlikely he’s breaking his policy again). Unless we have good reason to believe that the food at a function is going to be good (most reliable indicator being the caterer), we’ve taken to this relative’s policy.

Timing of most events in Bangalore means that we can eat our food at our normal times (lunch at noon, dinner at 6:30) and then comfortably get to the function well in time. Sometimes the host might get offended when we don’t eat, so a lighter than usual meal at home ensures that there is room for at least a dessert and a tiny course of meal.

As for the original crane-fox situation (calling people home or visiting for meals), we’ve started making adjustments. A few months after we returned, the daughter got back to her usual schedule of going to bed at 7 (unlike most children her age, she doesn’t nap in the afternoon). So dinner invites (in either direction) are out of the question. Lunch invites we manage by adjusting our breakfast times and quantities.

What’s the use of living in India if you cut yourself off from all socialising?

Two ways of eating chocolate

I only very recently discovered that there are essentially two ways of eating chocolate – biting into it and letting it melt in the mouth.

Maybe it’s a result of my upbringing, but until recently I only knew of the latter. Back when i was growing up, the “standard chocolate bar” was the most popular Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar which came with eight square pieces in the bar (competitors such as Nestle and Amul had smaller rectangular pieces, and so more pieces per bar of similar size).

My parents insisted that if I ate too much chocolate my teeth would rot. And so chocolate supply was rationed. I could only eat one square piece in a day. This meant that if I didn’t share my chocolate bar with anyone (a rare occurrence, since my parents also liked chocolate), I would eat one standard-issue Dairy Milk for eight days.

Things like eating a whole bar at a time were completely taboo. In fact, even when KitKat became a thing when I was in class 9 (1996-97), I would take one finger of it, break it into two and so eat one four-fingered bar of KitKat over eight days.

I never questioned this wisdom that I shouldn’t eat more than one small piece of chocolate a day. This also meant that whatever chocolate I ate had to last sufficiently long. That meant putting it in the mouth and letting it melt.

Around the KitKat time, it became common for kids to walk around with whole bars of chocolate in school (mostly used to attract members of the opposite sex). And I would see people eating bars together at once and wonder what was wrong with them and what their teeth would become like.

Presently I grew up. I no longer restricted myself to one piece a day. I started getting interested in different kinds of chocolate (of late it’s been mostly dark – I can’t stand milk chocolate nowadays). Many of these didn’t come with predetermined squares to tell what one piece was, so it was rather fluid.

Nevertheless old habits die hard, and so I would continue to eat chocolate by letting it melt in my mouth.

And then one day, I had one large piece and one smaller piece (of Amul Bitter Chocolate, which is my staple nowadays), and thought I’ll bite the smaller piece and eat it. The feeling was something else. I’d lived all my life eating chocolate by letting it melt in my mouth, and now suddenly I was discovering the joys of biting into it.

I think it especially works for dark chocolate. There’s something about biting into a chocolate that gives you the kind of pleasure that letting it melt in the mouth doesn’t offer.

Now, it’s been 20 years since I last had a tooth filled. I now worry if that might change soon.

Peanut Butter

You can put this down as a “typical foreign-returned crib”. The fact, however, is that since I returned to India a little over a year ago, I’ve been unable to find good quality peanut butter here.

For two years in London, I subsisted on this “whole earth” peanut butter. Available in both crunchy and creamy versions (I preferred the former, but the daughter, who was rather young then, preferred the latter), it was made only of peanuts, palm oil and salt. It was absolutely brilliant.

The thing with Indian peanut butter makers is that so far I’m yet to find a single brand that both contains salt and doesn’t contain sugar! The commercial big brands all have added sugar. Some of the smaller players don’t have salt, and in case they have salt as well, they include some other added sweet like honey or jaggery, which defeats the point of not having sugar.

I’d ranted about this on twitter a few months back:

I got a few suggestions there, tried the whole lot, and the result is still the same. Those that have salt also have sugar. The consistency in the product (especially for the smaller guys) is completely off. And a lot of the smaller “organic” players (that play up on the organic factor rather than the nutrition factor) don’t add any preservatives or stabilising agents, which mean that in Indian temperatures (30s), the oil inevitably separates from the rest of the product, leaving the rest of the thing in an intense mess.

Finally, my “sustainable solution of choice” I settled on was to buy Haldiram’s roasted and salted peanuts, and then just grind them in the mixie (making it from first principles at home just hasn’t worked out for me). Except that now during the lockdown I haven’t been able to procure Haldiram’s roasted and salted peanuts.

So during another shopping trip to a supermarket earlier this week (not that much insight to write a full blog post on that), I decided to try one of the commercial brands. It was available in a big white 1.25kg box and had a fitness (rather than “goodness”) messaging on the cover. It had added sugar, but at 10 grams per 100 grams of the product it was less than other commercial brands. On a whim, I decided to just go for it.

And so far it’s been brilliant. Yes, it’s sweeter than I would have liked, but the most important thing is thanks to the “stabilising agent”, it has a consistent texture. I don’t need to endlessly mix it in the box each time I eat it. The taste is great (apart from the sweetness), and I must say I’m having “real peanut butter” after a long time!

It’s a pity that it took a year and a period of lockdown for me to figure this out. And I’m never trying one of those “organic” peanut butters again. They’re simply not practical to use.

Then again, why can’t anyone figure out that you can add salt without necessarily adding sugar?

The Cost of Customer Acquisition

A couple of days after I abused Cred on twitter for having “mostly useless” rewards and switched to paying my credit card bills using BBPS, I decided to see if I could make use of whatever points I have on Cred.

I saw that they had some offers on the Olive group of restaurants. Paying “5000 cred coins” ( I don’t even know how many I have, and don’t care since I’m exiting the app) would entitle me to a 20% discount on some of the Olive group restaurants (Olive Bar, SodaBottleOpenerWala, Cantan, etc.).

I happened to casually mention this to the wife, and she immediately suggested that we go to Olive Bar for dinner last night. And so we did, and had an amazing dinner, funded partly by the discount coupon from Cred’s app.

This got me thinking – why has a premium restaurant brand like Olive partnered with Cred to give these discounts? For example, we had only been to Olive once before, and had become instant fans of the place. In that sense, Olive really didn’t need to entice us with discounts – the brand awareness was already in our heads.

So I initially started out thinking that at least part of the money Olive had spent in this partnership with Cred had been wasted – marketing to us who already knew (and loved) the brand.

Then again, the discount coupon had an immediate impact – without having any plans of eating out last night, the coupon immediately spurred us to go to Olive and spend some money there. So while Olive didn’t need to target us for the brand, their discount meant that they got one extra “unplanned” visit from us.

As it happened, this was on a mid-week evening, and we were the first guests in (the place opens at 7, so we had to already delay the daughter’s bedtime for this outing), so they had a low real estate cost of hosting us (the discount is applicable on all days, not just weekdays).

And by giving us excellent food once again, they have reminded us of how strong a restaurant they are, and we might increase our frequency of visits there.

OK I guess I try to over-analyse everything in life.

But then, isn’t that the whole point of this blog?